Exploring Stern Club Culture: Toxic or Necessary?

Written by Shivi Chauhan

Stern is no stranger to competition— as one of the most competitive undergraduate business programs in the country, it boasts a diverse and highly accomplished student body. For incoming freshmen, the transition to college and the pressure to perform in a rigorous academic environment itself is daunting, but alongside the adjustments to a new environment, Stern students have a unique obstacle— the club application process.

Stern offers a total of 27 clubs, the majority of which begin their recruitment process within the first two weeks of the fall semester. A few of the industry-specific clubs such as the Business Analytics Club (BAC), Investment Analysis Group (IAG), Management Consulting Group (MCG), the Strategic Venture Society (SVS), and the Quantitative Finance Society (QFS) entail a rigorous selection process, filled with extensive Google Form applications, multiple interviews, and various Common Hour meetings.  The insight and experience that professional clubs provide are invaluable, leading to a high volume of applications and crowded meetings filled with bright-eyed freshmen. 

So how can this “club culture” become toxic? 

For starters, there’s a highly involved and selective application process. “While I understand clubs are trying to get the best team members, the process of applying is inherently frustrating. It kind of drives down your desire to explore possible interests when you have to complete an application and be ‘picked,’” an anonymous freshman stated. “If the purpose of clubs is to provide students with the opportunity to be exposed to a certain field and the demands it entails, shouldn’t they be available to all students, not just to students with prior experience in their field?” they added. Stern should be an environment where students can explore, make mistakes, and not have one Google Form or interview deter them from pursuing a certain profession entirely. 

“Ideally, we’d love to accommodate all students interested in our club,” Caitlyn Lubas, BAC President stated, “but it’s just not realistic. With the multitude of applicants, it’s already hard enough booking a room for 20 students, imagine 100-something.” Caitlyn also believed that having a greater number of students involved in the club would be detrimental to the quality of instruction provided. “With a lot of students, the challenge would be providing all of them with high-quality instruction. We wouldn’t be able to give everyone the appropriate time and attention they need to develop their skills and learn.” 

Besides the application process, the timing is greatly inconvenient as well. This year, the Inter-Club Council (ICC) mandated that all clubs with an application process release and close applications on the same day, allowing for the first two weeks of the semester to be an “exploratory period.” However, the early timeline restricts students from exploring the various aspects of college life without feeling like they’re lagging behind as soon as they start school. Freshmen shouldn’t have to commit to one field and one club a week into business school and should be trying to find their optimal career path throughout their next four years of college instead. The process adds unnecessary pressure to the already intimidating academic life at Stern, fostering a toxic hierarchy between students. 

When asked how his organization will attempt to remedy this issue, ICC President Nisarg Patel said, “We might end up pushing all professional team applications back to the end of the fall semester, so freshmen have a few months to really dig deep and see what interests them, and find the kind of community they want to be involved in.” This ideally would provide first-year students the opportunity to properly acclimate to their new environment and potentially decrease the number of applicants per club.

Until the ICC and club leadership take appropriate action and push applications to the end of the fall semester, the toxicity within the Stern club application system will continue to proliferate. It’s time for a change. We deserve better. 

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